A brand new version of Phantom of the Opera is coming to Birmingham. Sir Cameron Mackintosh tells Roz Laws about it and turning Les Miserables into a film.
As he sat in the dark by himself, almost everyone around him was in tears.
But Sir Cameron Mackintosh remained dry-eyed when he went to the cinema to watch his award-winning musical.
Les Miserables failed to have a huge emotional impact on the prolific producer – because he had already seen its performances dozens of times.
“I do still get emotional at my shows,” insists Sir Cameron.
“I find the litmus test in Les Mis is the death of Eponine. That often sets me off and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cry.
“But to be honest, I was so involved in filming, on the set every day and in the editing process, that my emotional reflex was blunted.
“When you’ve seen the same scene again and again and again, it’s pretty hard to get upset.
“I went to see the film by myself at an IMAX cinema and I was very, very proud of it, but I didn’t cry.
“I do remember that the first take of Anne Hathaway singing I Dreamed A Dream was poleaxing to watch. It was something extraordinary. Eddie Redmayne singing Empty Chairs and Empty Tables was phenomenal too.
“But most of these songs were sung about 20 times in a day, so I got used to them.
“Maybe if I see the film again in a few months, it will catch me like a fresh member of the audience.”
Sir Cameron has never been busier and is thrilled that two of his most popular musicals are enjoying a new lease of life, more than 25 years after they were first staged.
Les Mis is a huge film hit having taken more than £250 million worldwide, while Phantom of the Opera is on a new UK tour which includes the Birmingham Hippodrome next week.
“I love seeing new things,” says Sir Cameron. “There’s that extraordinary moment when an actor does something with a line or a song that I’ve never seen before, and it still gets me.
“It’s one of the reasons why my shows have run so long. I never want them to get stale and just a replica of what has gone before. I want them to be a living, breathing thing.”
Sir Cameron has spent many millions – “you can’t put on a musical on this scale without spending millions” – increasing the grandeur and spectacle of Phantom of the Opera. Mind you, he can afford it. He’s said to be worth £725 million, as he fills more theatre seats than any other producer.
“We’ve gone back to the wonderful original costumes, and the set is entirely different,” he says of the new Phantom.
“It shows two very separate areas of the theatre – backstage where the Phantom lurks, which is quite stark with a gigantic moving wall that does amazing things, and which contrasts with the opulence of the opera and ballet that is put on the theatre.
“Even Andrew Lloyd Webber said to me ‘I didn’t realise it was going to be as big and spectacular as this.’.
“We haven’t changed the story in any way but I think the setting somehow makes it tougher and more gritty, though it still has its beautiful highlights.
“The audience has embraced the new version which is a relief, as the fan base for Phantom and Les Mis are very vociferous – if they don’t like it, they’ll tell you.”
Sir Cameron admits he expected to be spending more time on holiday by now. But at 66 he’s busier than ever, with more shows on the go than ever before.
He has seven Les Mis shows around the world, plus international productions of Phantom, Mary Poppins, Oliver! and Miss Saigon – and he’s casting a new version of Barnum.
He won’t be jetting off to all the countries that are putting on his shows, though. “I try to fly as little as possible,” he sighs. “It’s not a pleasure. I went three times round the world publicising Les Mis and it nearly killed me.”
His most recent flight was to Los Angeles for the Oscars. Les Mis won three awards, though Sir Cameron missed out on his own producer statue for Best Picture.
He enjoyed the experience though, mainly because, rather than just sitting in the audience, he was in his element ‘putting on a show’.
In the days running up to the ceremony, he was busy rehearsing the whole Les Mis cast ready for their performance on the night.
“It’s something they’d never seen before at the Oscars – at least that’s what the veteran producer of West Side Story, who was sat behind me, told me.
“It was great to hear the cast sing One Day More for the first and last time. For the movie we filmed them individually, so it was a wonderful moment when they all sang it together.
“I was in the theatre all day so I got to see all the stars rehearse. Shirley Bassey came for her run-through and brought the house down, there were a couple of hundred crew in there and we all stood and cheered.
“I don’t really get starstruck, but it’s always nice to meet people I admire. I met John Travolta for the first time and he was really sweet.”
And what of host Seth MacFarlane’s ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ song, about actresses getting naked in films, which has caused much controversy? I thought it was juvenile and silly, but it didn’t offend me and I smiled a few times.
“Seth was very charming though and has a fabulous voice. He should be in musicals.”
Sir Cameron has not been completely won over by Tinseltown, though he may well make another film.
“My day job is my day job, I love my musical theatre.
“I’m being asked to make lots of films but I would only make another film of one of my shows.
“Next time I will have a clearer idea of just what it takes and how much work is involved. They just expect you to drop everything as soon as it’s green-lit and devote all your time to the one film, whereas I’m normally working on a couple of dozen productions at the same time.
“It was a relentless but wonderful experience and I’d like to do another one, but not just yet. There are several of my shows that could be made into a film.
“Hopefully it won’t be another 25 years, because I will be very old by then.”
* Phantom of the Opera plays Birmingham Hippodrome from March 13 to May 4. For tickets ring 0844 338 5000 or go to www.birminghamhippodrome.com.